Archive for July, 2010

What Would a Totally New Morality Look Like?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five… It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table (p.6-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Very few, if any of us, radically disagree with God. We honestly believe that God’s way is best and is the way everyone else should live towards us. We believe that no one should lie to us, steal from us, cheat with our spouse, or end our life.

The problem is not that we want to create a totally new morality; we just want to be the lone exception to the morality we inherently agree with. If too many people begin to operate based upon the loophole we have “found” (and their actions begin to negatively effect us), then we try to rationalize that our circumstance was different.

In order to let this truth sink in, try to take up Lewis’ challenge and that of a community that operated on (and taught) a morality that was not at all rooted in the moral teaching of Scripture.

  • Things were said to be more important than people
  • Selfishness was encouraged over sacrifice
  • Deception was taught instead of logic
  • The end always justified the means
  • Power was more valued than love
  • Laziness was preferred to hard work

While there may be elements of our culture that resemble these values, no one wishes these things for their kids or prays they can find these things in a spouse. The point is that a totally new morality is an irrational endeavor. If it were spelled out propositionally no one would take it seriously.

The problem is that we try to make this “new morality private deal” with God daily. We do it on the minute scale of an individual life and so we never consider the logic of our request. We think, “Surely if God was reasonable He would see this is an acceptable exception.”

In the end we must see that our minor “improvements” would (and have) result in massive destruction.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Character” post which address other facets of this subject.

Ministering What Matters – II Corinthians 4

Tamper with God’s Word (4:2)

In II Corinthians 3:5-6 Paul had already said, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from Godwho has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Paul is now explaining what this competent ministry in God’s sufficiency looks like – faithful handling of God’s Word with a reliance upon God’s Person (God’s Spirit not our interpretation of the letter).

This is a hard balance to strike.  On one side, many come to Scripture and ask, “What does this passage mean to me?” They tamper with God’s Word (often putting words in God’s mouth) that are not consistent with the words God inspired.  On the other side, others explore Scripture exclusively in its historical context thinking an extensive understanding of the culture and setting in which the Bible was written is a “deep” understanding of Scripture. They tamper with God’s Word by ignoring or being silent about the modern relevance of God’s Word.

For what it’s worth, both groups often treat conversations with other people the same way.  One group thinks what they feel is the same thing as what you meant.  The other group thinks that if you only understood the context of their thinking you would agree with them.  Here again we see that we tend to treat other people the same way we treat God (life reveals our hearts).

Application: If you have never read a book on interpreting and applying the Bible, I would recommend two.  The first one does an excellent job of teaching you how to interpret each genre of Scripture (epistles, narrative, parables, prophetic literature, wisdom literature, and psalms). The second gives excellent examples and a model of how to make application of Scripture to the modern context and struggles of life.

Blinded the Minds of Unbelievers (4:4)

Evangelism is about more than convincing someone about the Truth of who Jesus is, why Jesus came, and how the Bible says we are to respond.  Evangelism is a miracle in which God gives sight to the blind. Ezekiel described humanity in his prophecy, “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house.”

With this in mind we can see how evangelism is more spiritual warfare than it is education.  The Gospel does have exclusive content, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” But it takes a supernatural intervention in the heart of an unbeliever for him/her to “see” this truth. When you share the Gospel you are conducting a “spiritual vision check (even believers need this; II Pet 1:9).”

Application: When you pray for a lost friend or family member, pray that God will open their eyes to His truth.  When you meet resistance or confusion in sharing the Gospel recognize that you will not argue someone into sight.  At that point, your first goal is to help them “see their blindness” (which oddly enough spiritually blind people are the only blind people who think they can see).  The type of question (modify it to fit the conversation) I advise for this is, “What do you think makes life worth living?”  Only when they see the inadequacy of their current hope will they “see” their need for an eternal hope.

Outer Self vs. Inner Self

 

In Ephesians 4:20-24 Paul discusses the old man and the new man in reference to our battle with sin. In II Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul contrasts the outer self and the inner self in reference to our struggle with suffering.  We learn from this that we are conflicted people (without a derogatory connotation) whether our challenge is moral or endurance.

Unless we realize this we will often wonder “Am I going crazy?” when we feel so torn in the midst of every life challenge (sin or suffering).  The points below are meant to help you find encouragement by rooting your identity in your “inner self” during episodes of suffering.

  • The “inner self” lasts longer. The passage contrasts wasting away with being renewed and transient with eternal to make this point. We are called to treat suffering like a woman treats pregnancy. The condition is temporary and comes with a great reward.
  • The “inner self” is more real. We would tend to think the outer self is “weightier” than the inner self. But we learn the opposite.  The outer self is the shadow that will fade away when we come fully into God’s light (presence).
  • The “inner self” belongs to the unseen reality. Just like there are more micro organisms (which we can’t see) than there are animals, there is more unseen reality than seen. Before we acknowledged germs we got sick for lack of washing our hands. Until we acknowledge the greater unseen reality we will be sick for lack of hope in suffering.
  • God understands our attachment to the “outer self.” God gave us this passage to comfort us in our current level of awareness. God is not impatient with our finite limitations. He believes the benefits of the process are worth the effort in ways we probably cannot understand because of our limited awareness. We must trust that Father knows best.
  • It is right to grieve the decay of the “outer self.” God does not expect us to be unmoved about the process of change. We should not grieve the dying of the “old man” (it is sin), but we should grieve the decay of the “outer man” (God said it was “very good” Gen 1:31). God has not told us we can only come out of our room when we stop crying. After all it has already been said He is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (II Cor 1:3).”

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

What Would a Truth-Telling Machine Do?

Where would you attach such a device? To someone’s brain, tongue, heart? I am going to contend that you would attach it to someone’s eyes, because a truth-telling machine would have to alter what we see in order to change what we say.

In order to “see” (sorry, couldn’t help myself) where I am going with this, consider 2 Peter 1:9.

“For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”

A lack of a growing character results in moral blindness. The best liars have to be convinced of their lies before they can ever be convincing liars. They “see” their world in such a way that makes their deception seem (at least) reasonable.

Ask someone who struggles with substance abuse, “Are you an addict?” and they will say, “No!”

Ask someone who struggles with intense guilt, “Does God accept your repentance?” and they will say, “No!”

Ask someone who works 50 hours a week and spends another 20 hours on hobbies and friends, “Are you a good parent?” and they will say, “Yes!”

Ask someone who cannot explain the Gospel but believes they are a good person, “Are you going to heaven when you die?” and they will say, “Yes!”

In almost every case the person would be speaking a lie, yet a polygraph would not beep and a truth serum would not change their answer. Why? Their answer fits the way they see their world. Until they see their world differently, they would not know they were lying. Yet their sincerity would not make their statement any more valid.

In light of this consider Jeremiah 17:9-10 and Matthew 13:13-17 (quoting Isaiah 6:9-10).

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

I think this should change the way that we pray (for ourselves and others).  We often pray to “know” the truth, as if truth were merely information. We would be better served to pray to “see” the truth, recognizing that truth is the reality in which we live created/designed by God.

I think this could often change the way we minister. Often we assume that people reject Christ because they have the wrong “information” about Jesus. It is more likely that people reject Christ because they do not “see” themselves as needing a Savior.

This is hard, because it makes the Gospel both offensive and relevant. However, when we “see” and admit our constant need for the Gospel, then our lives can be used by the Holy Spirit (the only true “truth-telling machine”) to open blind eyes and free tongues/lives to speak truth.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Character” post which address other facets of this subject.

The “Deeper” Meaning of Being Christian

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The word gentlemen originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone ‘a gentleman’ you were not paying them a compliment, but merely stating a fact (p. xiii)… A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result gentleman is now a useless word… Now if once we allow people to start spiritualizing and refining, as they might say ‘deepening’, the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word (p. xiv).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The worst thing we do with language is not cussing or cursing. At least then people know what we really mean (whether we admit to it later or not). The worst thing we do with language is to make it meaningless – perpetuating the punishment of the Tower of Babel.

In our day this decay of language takes the humble and seemingly enlightened tone of, “Who am I to say what is or is not good?” or “Who am I to judge who is and is not [particular positive attribute].” As Lewis points out, with this mindset we surrender meaning and the ability to communicate in the name of being non-offensive.

I think one thing we should learn from this is that humility is a matter of disposition not definitions. If we make humility a matter of definitions, then we get lost in the logic, “Who am I to say who is and is not or what is and is not humble?” In that case, humility begins to mean “someone who does not believe in clear definitions.”

As a disposition, humility challenges us to weigh carefully what we do with the clear definitions of Scripture. For instance, Scripture tells us clearly what a Christian is – a person who recognizes their sinful and helpless state before God and believes in the life-death-resurrection of Christ as their only hope resulting in a life-long commitment to grow in understanding of and obedience to the Bible.

The presence or absence of humility determines what we do with this definition (it does not alter the definition). Humility applies the definition to myself most stringently (Matt 7:3-5), because I know myself more completely and have more influence over myself than does anyone else. Humility recognizes the complete dependence of any person upon God to adhere to this definition.

At the same time, humility recognizes that we do not have the status or power to change or redefine what God has declared. Humility also recognizes that it is prideful to comfort others with words that are not true. Lying believes that we have the authority and power to create our own reality and then invite others to live in the world we created.

One final thought, humility is patient with those who sincerely (but wrongly) redefine words. Humility recognizes that it is not in our power to change the heart or mind of another person. Humility recognizes that all we can do is speak the truth in love using relationship as a bridge for the Gospel. When we try to do more than this we pridefully (often with the same sincerity as our “tolerant” friend) play God in a similar manner as they do when they redefine words (by trying to fulfill God’s role of bringing conviction). Let us be truly humble with the truth.

Suffering, Comfort, & Honesty – II Corinthians 1

In Our Affliction (1:4)

I am often struck by one prevailing assumption of Scripture that we often miss (largely because many of us disagree with it) – the people of God knew one another’s business.  A large reason we cannot (or do not) apply much of the biblical teaching about overcoming our struggles is because we insist on making application in private.  That is the equivalent of trying to perform a “Three Stooges” routine with only one actor.

As Paul talks about receiving comfort for life’s struggles, he assumes these struggles would be shared with the church.  This is the only way “those who have received comfort” from God could every share that same comfort with someone who is currently struggling.

To this it is often rebutted, “You do not have to be a part of a church (or open with fellow believers) to be a Christian.”  I agree.  But I would respond, “You also do not have to have a home to be a human, but I have not met many (any) healthy, homeless humans.”  Our goal is not mere survival (getting into Heaven), but living the healthy Christian life God designed as a living testimony to God’s wisdom and goodness so that we can offer that hope (comfort) to others.

Application: Do not wait until you are in a crisis to start being uncomfortably honest with fellow Christians about your life.  Whatever self-consciousness or pride that keeps you from accessing the comfort and guidance of God’s people is a tool of Satan in your life; a foothold specially designed for your destruction.  In order to correctly apply Scripture, you must believe that private, isolated Christian faith is necessarily anemic and contrary to God’s design.

 

That We May Comfort

 

II Corinthians 1:3-5 implies that Christians should be excellent at giving comfort.  We all suffer in a world that is broken. We have a Father who is full of mercy and comfort. We share the comfort we have received. The problem is that in our impatience, insecurity, or idealism Christians are often not skilled at giving comfort.

Consider the following suggestions as ways to increase your ability to share the comfort we receive from God.

  • Listenyou are offering comfort not answers. How often does Scripture ask us to pray?  God listens to our struggles. If we are offering God’s comfort to one another, then we should be eager to listen.  When we listen we do not merely learn what has happened to our friend, but how our friend is making sense of what happened. If we are going to comfort we need to know both facts and interpretation.
  • Incarnateyour presence means as much as your words. How many times does God say “I will be with you”?  Suffering makes us feel awkward and alone. Having someone near counter these two emotional lies (awkward “your suffering makes you unacceptable”; alone “no one cares”). God put the Truth in flesh, so should we.
  • Identifyyou are not comparing suffering but relating stories. This is not saying “I know exactly what you feel. I have been there.”  It is saying, “I have had my faith shaken by hardship too. Your questions, fears, or anger are rationale. When the time is right we’ll try to figure out if they’re true.”
  • Be Movedyou are not their Rock but their friend. A stoic response does not usually comfort. If you can hear someone’s suffering without being moved you either do not get it or have no heart (from their perspective). Jesus allowed Himself to be moved by the pain of those around Him.
  • Speak Biblically, Yet Tentativelyyou do not “know” God’s working in their small story but only in The Big Story. Be careful how emphatically you declare that you know what God is doing in this situation.  Give general truths about suffering at a pace they can be received. It is possible to kill a patient with the right treatment, before he is ready to receive it.

An Honest Example (1:8)

These are surprising words to hear from the apostle Paul, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” They are even more surprising when you consider they are in the introduction  of a letter where Paul is defending the legitimacy of his teaching and ministry against false teachers who were challenging Paul’s authority.

Paul shows us two important things in this verse. First, a teacher must follow his own instruction. If Paul was going to tell the Corinthians to be open and receive comfort in their affliction (v. 3-5), then he must model the same vulnerability. Second, godly human authority should not hide its own weaknesses.  Too often we have applied a leader’s qualification to be “above reproach (II Tim 3:2)” as being “most hidden, secretive, or off limits.”  This is another Christian paradox “strong” does not mean “without weakness.”

Reflection: Paul was more concerned with following his teaching about how to deal with life’s struggles than he was with putting up a front that he was perfectly keeping the standard of God that he proclaimed (i.e., “do not be anxious about anything” Phil 4:6).  Why do you think Paul was more concerned with modeling God’s methods than in hiding his struggle to live up to God’s standards?  How do you think this effected (for better or worse) Paul’s defense of the legitimacy of his ministry (II Cor 10)?

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

All Sin Is Equal But Not The Same

This is one of those discussions that usually goes nowhere.  It is a conversation that either gets bogged down in either defensiveness or self-righteousness.  I think it is important that we recognize this point before we begin.  Otherwise, we will underestimate how difficult it will be to apply this truth when the appropriate time comes.

For an example of this truth in action, consider I Corinthians 6:18

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

When Paul says “every other sin” he is obviously saying there is something distinct about sexual sin.  Paul is not saying that sexual sin should get a capital “S” or that it takes two cycles in the cleansing stream of Jesus’ blood.

Paul is saying that if the Corinthians understood the unique nature of sexual sin, they would instinctively run from it like a mouse from a cat.

Now we come back to the question, “Why does this discussion become so contentious?” Because we usually learn (by our error or the words of others) about the distinct dangers of a particular sin when we have committed that sin.  Paul is talking to the Corinthians about sexual sin, because that was a major struggle for them.

Now the question turns back to us, “Do we have the humility to hear the distinct dangers of our sin or will we become defensive like those people we have been talking about?”

Every sin has distinct dangers.  There no “safe” sins, or even “safer” sins.  Let us not debate about which poison would be the best to commit spiritual suicide with.  Let us be eager students wanting to have our blinders removed to whatever danger we tend to flirt with.

The Positive Side of Temptation

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“No man, I suppose, is tempted to every sin. It so happens that the impulse which makes men gamble has been left out of my make-up; and, no doubt, I pay for this by the lacking of some good impulse of which it is the excess or perversion (p. xii).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

There is an old adage that says, “Most weaknesses are exaggerated strengths.” I think that is very similar to what C.S. Lewis is saying here. If we do not understand the principle being explained here, then our battle with sin will result in excessive discouragement and self-abasement.

Let’s start with a few illustrations of this principle.

Sin: Harsh Anger
Good Impulse: Willingness to confidently and clearly stand for “truth” or what is “right”
Result of Absence: Being unduly influenced by popular opinion

Sin: People-pleasing
Good Impulse: High levels of compassion, loyalty, and the ability to empathize with other’s suffering
Result of Absence: Self-centeredness with the inability to see things from others’ perspective

These are only two possible examples. Each could have other possible good impulses at their root and other possible results of their absence. But, hopefully, you can begin to see the point that C.S. Lewis was illustrating.

I would like to draw two points of application.  The first applies to our personal battle with sin and the resulting discouragement. The second applies to our expression of leadership, particularly instructing during discipline, as parents.

First, after we sin we should not only look for our “temptation triggers” but also the strengths or even spiritual gifts that were distorted as we sinned. What aspect of my person, that God intended for good, did Satan use to blind me to the sin I was committing.  For example, what parent has not been blinded by their love and dreams for their child (good gift from God) and from that was excessive in their words during discipline (harsh, guilt trip, slippery slope arguments, personalizing, martyr speech, too long – all sinful). When we see this, our battle with sin becomes an effort to purify the good desire or ability that God has given us; rather than a self-abasing effort to eliminate something that winds up discouraging our efforts to keep trying.

Second, we should have this same mindset when we instruct our children during discipline (this assumes that we are pairing instruction with each occurrence of discipline – hint, hint). During discipline we should regularly emphasize the strength (personality, character, ability) that was revealed, but distorted in the child’s disobedience. Are they a leader, strong-willed, creative, loyal, socially adept, a good delegater, or expressive? In the course of discipline our message is not simply, “What you did was bad and you should never do that again,” but also, “I saw something good God put in you during that disobedience and I am disciplining you to help you use that good thing as God intended.” We might even pray for our children after discipline – not just that they would be obedient in the future, but that God would bless the gifts and abilities He has given our children and use them to do great things.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Character” post which address other facets of this subject.

Jesus Is Alive! So What? – I Corinthians 15

I Would Remind You of the Gospel

 

Paul begins I Corinthians 15 reminding the believers of the Gospel. It has been said, “The entire Christian life is understanding and applying what happened at your conversion.” It is essential for every Christian to remember the Gospel everyday. Our tendency can often be to view the Gospel as “beginner’s Christianity.” I encourage you to reflect on these basic truths of the Gospel in some form each day.

God Cares: At any point when you wonder if life has meaning, God’s love answers, “Yes!” Do you use every good gift in your day as a reminder of God’s involvement and concern? Do you look at people as objects of God’s design and affection? Are your acts of love primarily an attempt to pursue personal happiness or a passionate imitation of God’s character?

We Sinned: Does the Gospel give you the humble courage to acknowledge your sin without defensiveness, shame, or blame-shifting? Do you start each day expecting your biggest challenge will come from within? Do you hate sin or believe it is somehow cute, entertaining, or the “unfortunately off-limits good life”?

Christ Came: Do you think of the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ as you face a given struggle? Do you believe absolutely every thing Christ did was absolutely necessary for you to have victory over any temptation you face? Do you believe Jesus’ life represents what it means to be “truly human” or do you think “I’m just a man”?

Faith is Required: Do you only obey God when you think the results will likely be what you want? Do you dream dreams (about God’s kingdom) that are bigger than your potential? Do you believe that coming to the end of yourself (recognizing your full, constant need for God) is the best thing that can happen every day?

Use these questions as a starting point to introduce the Gospel into the way that you think about daily living and see “your normal” transformed by God’s Gospel.

 

If Christ Has Not Been Raised (15:17)

How often do you battle a particular sin without ever thinking of the resurrection? I’ll admit it, most of the time. Yet Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  I’ve also tried to change a light fixture without thinking about the breaker box. That did not work out so well either.

Our only hope against the power of sin in our lives is the resurrection of Christ. We get so caught up in learning “practical steps” that we forget that it was Calvary that gave our dead legs the power to take any steps (practical or not). When we forget this we battle sin as if we must conquer (in our strength) an already defeated enemy. We forget the only admonitions we have against sin and Satan are “Stand firm (Eph 6:13)” and “Flee (II Tim 2:22).”

Application: Memorize I Corinthians 15:17 and repeat it during your moments of temptation. Let the verse remind you of the nature of the moment’s struggle.  Christ is raised! Your faith is not futile! You are not still in your sin!  Temptation is not a time to “prove” or “earn” something; it is a time to “reveal” and “display” the effectiveness of what Christ has done. Temptation gains its effectiveness by making the moment about you (your desires or your weaknesses). When you make the moment about Christ (standing firm in His truth or fleeing to His presence) temptation is transformed into a moment of worship – you have declared Christ as worth more than anything Satan could offer (pleasure or protection) in that moment.

Victory! (15:57)

How often do you remember that the victory has been won?  That is easy to forget in the midst of life’s struggles. Life and history are a battle between two kingdoms: light and darkness, truth and folly, holiness and sin.  While it is sometimes hard to see, God has won! It is not merely that God is winning or God will win, but God has won!

Proclaiming the Gospel is simply asking people to admit defeat and join the winning team. Unfortunately, I think we often fail to appreciate the victory, because even as Christians, we are hesitant to admit defeat. The words of Jesus in Luke 9:23-24 still seem a bit extreme to us, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”

Reflection: Do you fail to remember and celebrate the victory of Jesus over sin and death because you have not completely admitted defeat (full reliance upon Jesus) and are still trying to show what you can do?  Do you stay in the presence of temptation too long thinking “I can handle it” instead of fleeing? Do you conjure your own “rules” for behavior rather than standing firm in God’s truth? If so, acknowledge defeat in order to embrace Christ’s victory.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

What If My Needs Are Not Being Met?

Let’s start by acknowledging that this question can be asked in many different contexts and can mean many different things.  The focus of this post is to examine the person who asks this question when in a legitimately difficult circumstance that leads them to want to do something they know they should not do.  For example:

  • A wife with a distant husband who wants a divorce
  • A husband with an unresponsive wife who wants to look at pornography
  • A teenager with a chaotic home who wants to escape through drugs
  • A victim of sexual abuse who wants to cut to escape the pain
  • An employee with a harsh boss who wants to fudge a report

These are situations that are “easy” to answer until you are in them.  The longer the real suffering continues the more it seems to justify the sinful response.  The common cultural refrain is to say, “After all I need affirmation (affection, stability, peace, or fairness).”

We should not assume the refrain is spoken by hard-hearted, backslidden Christian or unregenerate souls masquerading their identity as “Christian.”  Often these words are spoken by sincere followers of Christ who are trying to articulate what God’s compassion would look like for their situation.

In light of this, let’s look at I Corinthians 6:12-13

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Paul starts by saying it is lawful to pursue any legitimate desire/need (affirmation, affection, stability, peace, or fairness from the discussion above).  Paul even illustrates his point with the example of an absolute physical need – food.  In context, Paul has just discussed overcoming life dominating sexual sin and is about to discuss food in chapter 8.

Paul’s main point is, “I will not be enslaved to anything.”  When we want/need something so badly that we are willing to sin to get it we have become a slave. We have surrendered our freedom to choose to the availability of our central want/need.

But that seems so harsh.  It appears to be void of compassion.  If you read the next several chapters of I Corinthians, you probably would not change your mind.  Paul continues to call the Corinthians to resist being enslaved to any want/need. In chapter 10 he labels this slavery as “idolatry.”

When you keep reading you find the compassion starting in chapter 12.  Paul begins to point to the Body of Christ, the nature of love among Christians, life in the church, and the impact of the resurrection.

God never meant for us to live as dependant on one or two earthly relationships as we so frequently do.  We might ask, “Why has the ‘need’ teaching become so prevalent in our day?” Among many other reasons, we could point to the mobility of our culture, the privatization of our faith, the closedness of our casual relationships, and the centrality of our work environment.  With these factors in place, it only makes sense to ask one or two central relationships (spouse, parents, or children) to play the role God intended the entire church to fulfill.

With that said, I think we can reach two conclusions. First, the absence of a need/desire does not give us a license to sin.  Second, the presence of suffering should call us closer to God’s people for support during our suffering.

The Importance of Our Disagreements

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“One of the things that Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks where such-and-such a point ‘really matters’ and the other replies: ‘Matters? Why it’s absolutely essential (p. x)…’ The Historic Christian Faith turns out to be something not only positive but pungent; divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all (p. xi).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Here C.S. Lewis is clarifying that Mere Christianity was not meant to defend or promote any one denomination within Christendom and grieving the hostility with which many denominational and non-heretical doctrinal debates occurs.

However, I think from his statements we can gain some key principles for conflict resolution that apply beyond Christian academia and clergy.  It is not only theologians who can get testy within Christendom. Spouses, friends, co-workers, and fellow church members have their own hot debates that betray the unity that Christ so earnestly prayed for His church (John 17:11).

I would pull three principles from Jack’s (as he preferred to be called) words.

1. Define the importance of the disagreement under dispute.

When you are having a disagreement, try to agree on the importance of the subject before trying to resolve it. This is a way that you can demonstrate a sincere desire to understand your friend, before that understanding would be mistaken for agreement. If there is not enough honor and mutual respect to discuss the importance of the subject, there will not be enough to fairly represent one another in the rest of the conversation.

Even if the two of you cannot agree on the importance of the subject, at least you will have clarified one key reason why there will be disagreement in the following conversation. Often it is this surprise that you disagree with me that creates shock that is expressed in condescending anger or sarcasm. You might try ranking the subject on a scale of 1 to 10 or comparing it to the importance of a mutually agreed upon subject.

2. Remember the comparative importance of what unites you.

We too often immediately assume that if you disagree with me or do not see things the way I do, then you must be against me. Jack points out that this is not true. The differences between Christian groups are nothing compared to our non-Christian neighbors.

It would do us good to remember this with our spouse, kids, and fellow church members. We become blinded by the immediacy of the subject and are blinded to the shared history, affection, beliefs, values, and dreams. If we are to resolve a particular conflict well, it must not skew our vision.

Sin, fear, and pride tend to magnify our differences and shrink our unity.  Grace, charity, and the Gospel give patience and the benefit-of-the-doubt until we can rightly compare or unify beliefs with our dissenting beliefs. Consider these words from Ephesians 2:14-22 as you consider both church and home conflict:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

3. Try to settle the disagreement.

Now, and only now, are you ready to engage in “conflict resolution” proper.  Until you know the significance of the disagreement and have considered the common ground you share with the other person, you are not ready to approach the subject.

When we cut corners we often wind up cutting throats (figuratively) and shredding our witness (literally). Once you establish a good history with someone the first two steps can be brief, but when you see the early warning signs of conflict going wrong make sure you take the time to prepare for resolution before you engage in conflict.

To see the first 100 posts in this series click here.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Communication” post which address other facets of this subject.